Category: Education News Magazine

Hard work and a little luck

Jean Dufresne retired from the University of Regina after a 19-year career.

Teaching was something Jean Dufresne wanted to do from as far back as he can remember. The first university-trained teacher in his family, Jean says, “It started early for me. In Scouts, as a volunteer, even in the Naval Reserve, I was always placed in an instructional role.”

In terms of credentials, Jean’s path to a 35-year career as a teacher and then teacher educator was unusual: “I have a BA with a major in history and a minor in education,” says Jean, who graduated from Université Laval in Quebec City in the 80s.

Jean’s career included teaching social studies and history in both secondary and postsecondary settings, writing French immersion curriculum guides, and teaching in, and finally directing, the University of Regina’s Baccalauréat en Éducation française (le Bac) program. Jean became a specialist in language development and a specialist tutor for French tests. “I always thought I would be a history teacher and I became a French teacher. I was never the best at French in high school. Yet, I was lucky enough to be offered opportunities and flexible enough to give them a try,” says Jean.

These opportunities, Jean attributes to his relocation to Saskatchewan in the fall of ’86 to be with his future wife Anne Brochu Lambert, who was working with Radio Canada (French CBC). “There were 100 people like me in Quebec City. Here, I was special. In Québec, just one among others,” says Jean.

“I also came to see the prospects for becoming a teacher in Saskatchewan.” says Jean. To become a certified teacher here, Jean had to earn an extra 15 credits of French for the equivalent of a French minor. This he did through le Bac, becoming one of the students in the first cohort of the French education program in the final term. He did not know at the time that the longest stretch of his career would be with le Bac.

Jean was hired in ’87 at Dr. Martin LeBoldus where he taught mostly history and social studies until 1994, when he was seconded to the Ministry of Education for a 4-year project in which he wrote the curriculum guides for Secondary French Immersion (10, 20, 30, and Intégré A20 and B20). After this accomplishment, he went back to teaching, eventually returning to LeBoldus full-time and becoming department head in 2000/01.

Three years later, Jean was seconded to the le Bac program. Teaching at the University of Regina was a big transition. Jean says, “In 2003, school divisions were just starting to tighten their purses. The University felt rich by comparison. You could still print what you wanted to print. You were not counting your copies. Work was at another level, dealing more with adults. It was a welcome change. Same with the ministry, I was lucky. I’ve been lucky all my life. I worked hard; the harder you work the luckier you get. But luck is also a factor.”

Still, as a secondment, Jean didn’t know beyond his 2-year terms where he would be next. However, 2 years stretched into several years. As Jean says, “I ended up being lucky for 14 years. I also have my school division to thank for this. They allowed me to stay instead of recalling me, or asking me to resign.”

In 2017, at the 30-year mark with the Regina Catholic School Division, Jean retired and was officially employed by the University of Regina. Two years later, he accepted the role of director of le Bac, where he finished out his career.

The director’s role was challenging in many ways. “I wasn’t expecting to become le Bac director,” says Jean. “The Faculty suggested that I should apply, so I did. What I learned is that it took a lot of me. The price was steep. I really enjoyed the classroom teaching and dealing with my students with le Bac. I was essentially the pre-internship year secondary person, so I was able to teach a few courses with the same students, and be involved in a capacity that I understood: my courses, my old curriculum guide, my resources, my students—that part I enjoyed. Being a director, especially during a pandemic, became very demanding. There are aspects of the job, though it is essentially a program chair, that make it more challenging: For example, we have to budget the Federal Government funding and create annual financial reports.” Added to the situation was the loss of several staff members in le Bac (though since then le Bac has new staff members).

Moving online through the pandemic created another set of challenges. “You teach French education in Saskatchewan in French, so the environment is important. Some students flourished online but I think the majority did not and it did have consequences on language skills a little bit. We see the effect now with the internships; some students are in the classroom for the first time, and they are facing challenges that they haven’t met before,” says Jean.

Yet, the flip side of the challenges was the highlight for Jean: “There’s a good side: I finished my mandate, and my thanks to the faculty who trusted me enough to choose me as the director. That is important to me. It is hard work, but it is important, and I believe the work was done decently. This is certainly a highlight.”

Looking back, Jean remembers other interesting challenges/highlights: “When we did the program review, finishing it in 2006/07 with Bernard Laplante as director, that was challenging; that was interesting. We were looking at courses and programs, we tried to find a perfect mix of compulsory courses and electives and all that. We had language tests. Le Bac had good quality programs and we were growing. By 2019, le Bac had grown from 75 students to 166, but our resources didn’t follow so we had to be a little bit more modest and cap ourselves at 140.”

Reflecting further on the growth and changes he has seen in le Bac over the years, Jean says, “The first cohort of students going through the 4-year elementary French education program started in ’83. They did their second year at Université Laval in Quebec City. From the beginning, that ‘immersion year’ was important. In ’91, we created a secondary French education program. For le Bac, immigration really changed things around 2010. Francophone newcomers who wanted to become teachers came with individualized needs, and we had to adapt the program to help them achieve their goals. There is also a big difference between 2000 and 2020 in our approach to students. Recruiting and retaining students has become a survival issue, and we now do everything we can to recruit and keep students, which becomes a lot of extra work. In le Bac, we do tutorials to prepare students, we have really personalized services, small classes, and a team in Quebec City that follows them during their second year. The director goes to see the students in Quebec City each year and the deans are in touch with each other. We are trying to find alternatives to ensure every student who can be successful, is successful. This is also part of the Faculty’s philosophy.”

What Jean has learned over the years is that what matters in teacher education is “trust and personal contact.” Jean says, “Proper education is a professional relationship between people who are teaching and learning, and trust is important in that relationship. If students know and understand what we are doing and if they are respected, they go accordingly. If there is a lack of trust, and it happens sometimes, then it creates issues. When students first get out of the university they want to be the best teachers they can be; they’re really centered on their subject areas, but they figure out very quickly that relationship is key. There is no teaching without a relationship. Reconciliation helped us understand the weight, the heavy burden, of residential schools because there was a loss, or a lack of trust if there was trust in the beginning. If you don’t have trust, failure is almost certain.”

As parting advice, Jean recommends that the Faculty, “keep an eye on le Bac in the future. Continue to ensure that le Bac is staffed properly. Make sure French services are recognized and appreciated in the future as they are now, and not always seen as a burden even though it is extra work. La Cité is now a Faculty. This is great news; it means we now have La Cité colleagues to help us with faculty resources. However, there is a caveat, let’s be careful. We have to be sure that le Bac students are well-served by both Faculties. I hope the next dean will be able, as Dean Cranston has done, to figure out the role of le Bac program and make sure it has room to grow at the University of Regina.”

Overall, Jean’s feelings about his career are positive: “I’m very grateful to the Faculty, to le Bac program, and to Regina Catholic School Division because they’ve allowed me to grow in the profession. I understand things today I didn’t understand 20 years ago. For example, I understand more about reconciliation because I was part of this Faculty. I’ve had discussions with elders that I would not have had otherwise. I’m very grateful.”

A lifelong search for a good teacher

Dr. Patrick Lewis retired at the end of June, 2022 after an 18-year career with the Faculty of Education. Photo above: The EIC honoured Patrick with a blanket, songs, poems, and comments of appreciation upon completing his term as Associate Dean. Photo credit: Shuana Niessen

“The last thing in the world I was ever going to do was become a teacher!” says Dr. Patrick Lewis, who ended up teaching 17 years in elementary school and another 18 years in preservice and in-service teacher education.

While he was a child, Patrick really enjoyed school until Grade 7, when he suddenly didn’t find school that engaging or much fun anymore. In fact, he ended up leaving high school early. But, fast-forward to 1985, and he and his partner Karen had a new little baby girl. “We were living in family housing at UBC, and I was starting graduate work in history for my master’s. I was realizing that I needed to do something more to support my family than fiddle away at graduate research and history, so I went across campus to the Faculty of Education and spoke to an associate dean there.”

Initially, Patrick intended to enroll in the secondary teacher education program because his undergrad degree was in political science and history, but because the associate dean encouraged him to take the elementary program, he made the switch, which turned out well: “The more time I spent in K-3, the more fun I was having. I got quite engaged and comfortable with learning alongside little people. Even during practicums, I saw the enormous growth that could happen with kids that age. So that really intrigued me and I stuck with it.”

After finishing his post-graduate certificate, Patrick was hired at Pender Island School. After teaching for 5 or 6 years, he began to realize that he needed a greater understanding of how to work with kids who struggle, so he returned to university to do his master’s degree. “I thought, ‘There has to be something I’m missing.’ I was working with young children and trying to figure out how to help kids who were struggling with mostly literacy and, to a lesser extent, numeracy skills,” he says.

His master’s research did give Patrick answers, but not the answers he initially expected: “I had an unconscious sense of this, but I developed a conscious sense of the importance of building relationships with learners. So it wasn’t so much about finding new mechanisms for literacy, for teaching and learning, but it was more about kids and the relationships,” says Patrick. In retrospect, Patrick recognizes that what he learned then about building relationships as a way to help struggling kids learn, was about dealing with trauma or complex trauma, something he and his spouse Karen Wallace have been exploring and writing about more recently.

After 10 years on Pender Island, Patrick and Karen decided it was time to pack up and travel. Patrick wanted to do more graduate work around narrative inquiry and storytelling and he was accepted to the University of Queensland in 1997. They sold their acreage and the family of four backpacked through the South Pacific and ended up in Brisbane, Australia where Patrick began his PhD. Having to leave Australia before he finished his studies, Patrick returned to Victoria, BC, to finish his PhD remotely. His dissertation was a narrative inquiry called “Looking for a Good Teacher.” Patrick says, “That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing since I started teaching—looking for a good teacher.”

In 2004, the University of Regina hired Patrick as an assistant professor in early childhood education. At the beginning, the position was a ‘test drive’ with Patrick living in Regina while Karen stayed in Victoria to allow their son to finish high school and to continue with her established counselling and art therapy practice. However, in 2007, they made the decision to move to Regina, committing to stay for 5 years. “Five years turned into 18 years (and 14 for Karen),” says Patrick.

Over his time here, Patrick saw the work of the Faculty evolving: “We went through program renewal and through processes of developing mission statements and visions, and our core belief. I got the impression even from the early days that we were moving toward equity, diversity, and inclusion. But, it didn’t always go smoothly.”

Though not naturally drawn to administrative roles, Patrick adopted several leadership roles along the way, such as early childhood education subject chair, co-organizer of the “talkin’ about schools and society” discussion series, Education Indigenous Advisory Circle co-chair, elementary program chair, and the associate dean of faculty development and human resources.

Patrick’s hope in taking on these responsibilities was always that “it would be an opportunity to make programming a more holistic experience for our preservice teachers in preparing them for the children they were going to work alongside in their classrooms. I wanted to open their eyes to the importance of diversity and inclusion, and to become aware of historical oppression, with Indigenous people, Black people, and so-called people of colour.”

The Play, Art, Narrative (PAN) summer institutes that Patrick and Karen taught for many years were also intended to open students’ eyes to the structural and systemic racism in educational practices, in what teachers do. “If I’m to believe the feedback from students, it changed a lot of teacher’s ideas and ways of thinking about teaching, so that was, I think, pretty good work,” says Patrick.

The work we do is “hugely significant,” says Patrick. “Our students will be with kids about 197 days of the year for almost 6 hours per day. It is vitally important that we not only prepare students for this incredibly sensitive and important work, but also that we help them understand the realities of school life, and help them to look beyond the students in front of them to see the lives of those students and understand the importance of developing relationships with them and their families. The importance of this work behooves us to make sure we are doing all we can to help our preservice and in-service teachers become empathetic, authentic, and good listeners.”

Patrick’s advice for the Faculty mirrors what he learned in his search for a good teacher: “Build relationships with people and listen to people—really, really listen to people so they know you heard them. It’s not about whether you agree with them or not. Let them know you heard them and that you understand how they are feeling or thinking about a situation.”

After retiring at the end of June 2022, Patrick says, “I had a very privileged and charmed life. I was really lucky to work with great faculty and support staff. I loved it there. I found everything that the Faculty was doing intriguing. I worked alongside six deans while I was there. In my travels through the committees and programs I was involved with, faculty engagement was really refreshing and hopeful.”

Affirmation of a job well done came in the form of the International Play Association’s Right to Play award which honoured Patrick in October for his career-long advocacy and service promoting the child’s right to play. A former student of Patrick’s, Whitney Blaisdell, who nominated him for the award, says, “Many may agree—this honour is very well-deserved.”

Physical Education: 2SLGBTQ+ inclusionary or exclusionary?

Niya St. Amant is a Ph.D. Candidate at Queen’s University in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies in the discipline of sociocultural studies of sport, health and the body. She got into this field because she is interested in exploring the way that sport, health and physical activity work to empower and disempower certain groups of people and to work to bring to the foreground the experiences of these groups.
Dr. Alexandra Stoddart is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina. She chose to become an educator (and a teacher educator) in the Health, Outdoor, and Physical Education subject area because of the way movement has changed her life. She believes everyone should have the opportunity to engage in quality physical education that will grow their love for movement.

Researchers Niya St. Amant (Queen’s University) and Dr. Alexandra Stoddart (University of Regina) have been exploring the experiences of current 2SLGBTQ+ preservice teachers and/or students who have completed their degrees and taken at least one physical education (PE) course at the University of Regina. Before discussing the project, first and foremost, the researchers want to acknowledge and thank all participants for sharing their experiences.

What led to this research topic was the traditional Eurocentric PE subject area. Alexandra says, “Traditionally, PE has been a Eurocentric subject that celebrates heteronormativity and masculinity. At the K-12 level, sex-segregated classes and a requirement to change out can cause 2SLGBTQ+ students to feel unsafe. As preservice teachers, students once again encounter this subject. It is critical that teaching at the post-secondary level is disrupting the problematic discourse of PE and not continuing to perpetuate the status quo.”

The project was based around the following two research questions: What it is like for 2SLGBTQ+ students to learn and be in a PE environment in 1) K-12 programs and 2) a teacher education program, and how PE instructors and professors can better support their 2SLGBTQ+ preservice teachers through their pedagogy, content, and beyond.

Niya explains that the reason it is important to understand student experiences in PE and physical activity is that, “PE and activity can be both empowering and disempowering for people, and it’s important to understand what about it disempowers people from participating and in bringing about other negative consequences, such as feelings of exclusion and alienation. Exploring how PE can be disempowering and exclusionary for 2SLGBTQ+ students is particularly relevant due to the way PE has historically treated sex and gender as binary categories and privileges heterosexual sexualities while marginalizing others. If we want people to continue to take up and enjoy PE in both grade school and postsecondary school, then we need to discover how PE can exclude and alienate 2SLGBTQ+ students in order to intervene and transform these spaces to be inclusive and welcoming.”

The study used an explanatory sequential design with two phases. Phase 1 included a cross-sectional web-based survey exploring 2SLGBTQ+ students’ lived experiences of PE both at the K-12 and post-secondary contexts. Phase 2 included 45-minute semi-structured individual interviews with a subset of participants from Phase 1. Additionally, interviews occurred with professors and instructors who had taught a PE course in the last few years. Student participation permitted the researchers to learn about the students’ lived experiences in PE courses, while faculty participation gave insight into what was occurring with PE pedagogy at the post-secondary level.

Initially the researchers struggled to recruit participants, especially with the study occurring during the pandemic. They got creative and used multiple methods of recruitment. In the end, Niya notes that “the 2SLGBTQ+ students who agreed to be interviewed were very receptive and grateful for the experience of being interviewed. They thoroughly enjoyed sharing their experiences (both good and bad). We had very fruitful discussions that were both instructive to the research and beneficial for them to share their experiences and to know others have shared similar experiences.”

Though the analysis has not been completed yet, the preliminary quantitative results indicate to the researchers that “especially at the K-12 level, we have a lot of work to do to ensure those in the queer community feel safe and comfortable in the PE space.”

Niya says, “A couple of things jumped out at me after doing the interviews. One was the fact that the students who appeared to have the most negative experience in grade school PE were the students not in the Physical Education Teaching program, and the ones with positive experiences were the ones who went on to seek careers as PE teachers. So, this potentially demonstrates how negative experiences in PE in grade school can lead to long-term negative thoughts and avoidance of PE. Second, the students all spoke about the importance of teachers introducing pronoun usage to demonstrate an inclusive classroom as one small thing teachers and professors can do to ensure 2SLGBTQ+ students feel welcomed and included in the space. For instance, teachers sharing their pronouns and inviting others to do the same on the first day of class. So, this demonstrates that 2SLGBTQ+ students are seeking more inclusive environments that stretch beyond just the PE environment and to classrooms in general, but are perhaps, most important in the PE environment where 2SLGBTQ+ students have faced particular discrimination and negative experiences.”

The researchers intend to use the findings of this research to help them change the way they do things in PE spaces and to promote and enhance 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion at the University of Regina, specifically in the Faculty of Education and beyond. “It is our responsibility in the Faculty to enact change and not put the onus and burden on students,” says Alexandra.

Funding for this project was acquired through the University of Regina’s Humanities Research Institute 2SLGBTQ+ Equity, Diversity, Inclusivity Research Microgrant.

Talking about gender and sexual diversity in education

As part of our Faculty’s efforts to further develop a critical consciousness of, and stand in solidarity with, those who have been marginalized by gender and sexual diversity (GSD) in the field of education and higher education, in this article a diverse group of panelists—queer, trans, nonbinary, and cis het—all devoted to the work and research of GSD, talk about about the current challenges; personal and professional experiences that have motivated them to do GSD work; and how universities, faculties, professors, school divisions, and teachers can better support those marginalized by gender and sexual diversity.

Meet the Speakers

Jacq Brasseur (BSW’13, RSW’15, MEd’21) is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Ivy + Dean Consulting, a firm they founded to “bring social justice and equity into the non-profit boardroom.” In this role, they provide Professional Development (PD) for teachers and schools for improving 2SLGBTQ+ competency. Most recently, Jacq has been focusing on working with faith-based schools in Saskatchewan, with various Catholic districts as well as some private schools. As a proud member of the Regina Catholic School’s GSD Committee, Jacq is working with the district, as they endeavour to support 2SLGBTQ+ kids.

“While I have found this work challenging, I have also found it incredibly rewarding—there are queer and trans students (and teachers!) in Christian and Catholic schools in Saskatchewan, and they deserve to feel supported and affirmed in their whole selves,” says Jacq.

When Jacq moved to Regina in 2017, they took on the role of Executive Director for the UR Pride Centre. Among many other responsibilities, this role involved providing PD training for teachers and educators in Southern Saskatchewan schools. They also oversaw the transition of Camp fYrefly and fYrefly in Schools programs from the University of Regina to the UR Pride Centre. (Read about their Distinguished Alumni Award for Humanitarian and Community Service Award.)

Before moving to Regina, Jacq lived in Yellowknife, NT, where they co-founded what is now the Northern Mosaic Network, a 2SLGBTQ+ human service agency in Yellowknife, NT. Jacq worked closely with NT schools, educators, and the Ministry of Education to create more inclusive spaces.

Kyla Christiansen (BEd’91, MEd’14) is currently the Coordinator of Comprehensive School Community Health for Good Spirit School Division and Coordinator of Mental Health and Diversity for Regina Public Schools. Kyla has also served in many roles throughout her career, such as high school administrator, provincial school coordinator for fYrefly, Saskatchewan, GSA Summit coordinator, sessional lecturer for the Faculty of Education, and gender and sexual diversity consultant for five Saskatchewan School Divisions.

Dr. James McNinch (professor emeritus) is currently a consultant with the Saskatchewan School Board Association on a project about parent/teacher home visits. He is also conducting PD for Prairie Spirit School Division administrators and board members in the area of gender and sexual diversity.

During his 20-year career with the Faculty of Education, James served in a variety of roles: dean, associate dean, director of the Professional Development and Field Experiences office, director of the Teaching Development Centre, and Director of SIDRU (the Faculty’s research unit), as well as professor of professional studies. Particularly memorable was the anthology James co-edited and contributed to, entitled, I Could Not Speak My Heart: Education and Social Justice for Gay and Lesbian Youth (2004). Also that year, James created and taught a course on school and sexual (and gender) identities (EFDN 306). “This course continues to be an elective and has hopefully been updated to keep up with this dynamic field of teaching, learning, and research,” says James.

Camp fYrefly, a 4-day annual retreat that welcomes teens and young adults who identify as 2SLGBTQA+, has been an important part of James’ work over the years. As dean, he used his influence to help bring Camp fYrefly to Saskatchewan. James was program co-ordinator for Camp fYrefly and the fYrefly in Schools programs from 2016-2018 and he is still helping with fYrefly: “This year the camp returned to Regina as a live event after being online for the past 2 COVID-19 years. There were 57 campers and more than half of them self-identified as being gender fluid or non-binary. This is further proof that gender as a marker of identity is beginning to fade. It has already been 5 1/2 years since Parliament passed a bill (first proposed in 2005!!) protecting the rights of transgender and other gender diverse individuals,” says James.

Dr. Fritz Pino is an assistant professor in the Faculty of Social Work. Fritz says her “research and community work have always been centred on exploring the experiences of queer and trans communities, specifically queer and trans sexualities and identities that intersect with race, age, class, and migration.” All of Fritz’s current projects are also centred on queer and trans lives. A few examples include the following: Fritz is conducting interviews to document the lived experiences of queer and trans Filipino immigrants to assess how being a racialized queer or trans intersects with migration and settlement in the prairies. Another project involves exploring the concept of social support of 2SLGBTQ+ faculty and staff at the University of Regina to contribute to the development of EDI related programs. Fritz is working on a manuscript about global transfeminisms, and the experiences of Filipino trans women during COVID-19 pandemic. She is also developing a graduate level course called Critical Social Work Practice with 2SLGBTQ+ communities, to be taught Winter 2024 with the Faculty of Social Work. Another area of her research involves 2SLGBTQ+ poverty and healthcare services.

Dr. Christie Schultz is currently the dean of the Centre for Continuing Education and an associate professor in the Faculty of Education. Since the early 2000s, Christie has participated in panel conversations, primarily in university classrooms, that have focused on gender and sexual diversity. In her work as a professional and an academic serving in a leadership role at the University, Christie works on being visible. “I think it is important to be who I am at work, to be a positive example of an out queer woman, especially for the next generation of scholars and leaders in higher education,” she says.

Dr. j wallace skelton is an assistant professor in queer studies in education. j has been addressing matters of sexual orientation and gender identity for 20 years, though as a queer and trans person, j has been engaging in systems of education for much longer. j’s work has included supporting and training students and staff teams, policy writing, research, piloting a high school gender course, conference organizing, planning for organizational change, mentoring teachers, running groups for trans and nonbinary children, human rights investigations, and assessing external partnerships.

j’s master’s thesis examined trans and nonbinary characters in children’s picture books. The findings led j to launch a press to publish the books that j and j’s husband wanted to see. With the understanding of the importance of listening to children and believing them, j’s PhD research invited gender independent and trans, nonbinary (GIaNT) children to show and tell what learning would be like if they were able to create it.

As a new faculty member, j says, “I’m currently very engaged in thinking about what it might mean for us to be a Faculty that celebrates sexual and gender diversity, and how to do that. There is a lot of faculty support for this, and I’m doing it with others, and it feels like an exciting place of possibility. We’ve not provided the support people need; we’ve not embedded 2SLGBTQA+ content across our curriculum, but we can, and we need to.”

What experiences brought you to the work and research of gender and sexual diversity? What was the need you were seeing or experiencing?

Fritz: I identify as trans woman of colour, born and raised in the Philippines. My work is connected and informed by my embodied social location and subject position. There is still a great need to increase trans literacy, and to develop scholarly, pedagogic, and policy interventions that address queer and trans issues of marginalization, invisibility/hypervisibility, oppression, and discrimination.

Christie: When I was an undergraduate student, seeing and learning from queer professors who I could admire made a big difference in my young adult life. Because of these professors, I could begin to imagine myself as both queer and professional—and professional in queer ways. (I know this wouldn’t have been important for everyone, but it was important to me in my young adult life.) In very subtle ways, they taught me I could be hopeful and I could be myself.

Kyla: As a rural school educator and administrator, I witnessed the impact of heternormativity, homophobia, and transphobia on individual students and my school community as a whole. Early in my career, I met people in both personal and professional capacities whose lived experiences were quite different from my own, and I realized just how extremely privileged I was because of “who I was and who I loved.” It became obvious to me that the moral and ethical imperative was to create spaces where my students (and staff) felt protected, respected, and included. In my educational career, I also worked for the provincial government. During that time, it became more about the “politicizing” of identities and I determined to become more involved in advocacy work. When I engaged in graduate work at the U of R, my commitment and passion for this work deepened, and I have been doing what I call “behind the scenes” advocacy work since—to create safer spaces where students and families voices can be heard.

James: As a man who came out later in life with the realization of my own sexual orientation and attraction to men, my journey out of the closet was an intense and sometimes painful process and it made me appreciate larger issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I was working with SUNTEP and the Gabriel Dumont Institute at the time and the struggles of the Métis, their unique history of marginalization, their ability to “see with both eyes,” and “to live in two worlds” and to act as intermediaries and go-betweens between two racialized solitudes, all of this was a huge inspiration to me. It made my “issues” seem trivial in comparison.

Jacq: I came out to my family and classmates when I was 11 years old—over 20 years ago, when children that young weren’t really as open as they are now. I lived and learned in a Catholic education context, and this significantly impacted the way that I experienced school as an openly queer kid.

I think I was really lucky to have progressive Catholic educators as parents. Both of my parents are established Catholic educators in the Northwest Territories, and they protected me unconditionally within my school system, and they were positioned to do so as educators and administrators who worked within it. I definitely experienced some homophobia from my classmates and teachers, but I think I was shielded from a lot of it because of who my parents were. I know other queer kids in Catholic schools aren’t that lucky.

Still, when I was in Grade 5, I approached my elementary school principal and asked if I could plan something in school for May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia & Transphobia. She said “no.” I walked out of her office thinking to myself: “You will rue the day that you told me I couldn’t do this!” Ever since then, I have had a strong commitment and motivation to work on improving learning spaces for 2SLGBTQ+ kids and teachers.

More recently, when I took my Master’s of Education at the University of Regina where I focused on queering curriculum and community-based curriculum development, I was in an early childhood education course where I heard my colleagues (most of whom were licensed and practicing teachers in Saskatchewan!) share anti-gay and anti-trans dogwhistles about queer and trans children. I was amazed at how many really competent teachers were spouting off talking points that I thought everybody understood were violent and obviously harmful towards 2SLGBTQ+ communities. This has led me to develop a stronger interest in queering children’s literature and queering early childhood education; however, I’m definitely not an expert yet!

j wallace skelton: GSD work and research is about me, my family, my children, my communities, and other 2SLGBTQA+ people who do not get the love, welcome, language, and celebration they deserve. For me, this question is like saying “Why do you work for justice for yourself and everyone you know?”

I was out as a queer person in 1990. By 1995, I was an official delegate for the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) to the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. I was lobbying with people like Palesa Beverly Ditsie and Dylan Scholinski. Palesa Beverly Ditsie is a South African activist whose work included ensuring that The Republic of South Africa’s constitution prohibited discrimination against on the grounds of sexual orientation. Dylan Scholinski is a trans person who spent his high school years in psychiatric hospitals undergoing conversion therapy, and who then became an activist against conversion therapy. I was deeply inspired by them both. Dylan and I almost got arrested, along with others, for supporting Palesa during her speech to the UN about the importance of supporting human rights of people of all sexual orientations. We were being taken down a long hallway by Chinese security, when Bella Abzug intervened by blocking the hallway with her wheelchair. Her aide got on the phone to the US State Department and Bella refused to move until they released us. It was a stunning moment of solidarity work.

Making queer and trans lives possible is about all of us engaging in community care. I am constantly inspired by people who do the ongoing work of making more possibility for themselves and others. It’s a giant group project and we inspire and support each other in it.

What successes, failures, or changes have you seen over the years in the work of gender and sexual diversity in education?

Fritz: My work has not necessarily changed over the years. However, I continue to engage in local or spaced-based research, community organizing, and advocacy. I believe that queer and trans issues are shaped and impacted by the politics and social structures of local settings.

The change I have seen, at least in the context of my work, is that the momentum of advocating for queer and trans lives has been magnified/increased. This is also based on my observation that queer and trans experiences of oppression and discrimination continue to manifest in varying levels, sometimes quite subtly within institutions and organizations.

j wallace skelton: I often remind cis het folks that we are still reasserting our own identities, and taking back our ability to name ourselves. Taking it back from medical establishments that want to pathologize us, taking it back from legal establishments that want to criminalize us. Black people, Indigenous people, and people of colour continually have to assert their identities, value, being in the face of white supremacy and colonialism. Work I did a decade ago, that I felt great about then, now feels inadequate, and this work has to be constantly revisited and made better.

Fred Moten (2016), a Black thinker and philosopher I feel inspired by, when asked about the work of Black people said, “I love all the beautiful stuff we’ve made under constraint, but I’m pretty sure I would love all the beautiful things we’d make out from under constraint better.” Similarly, I think our culture has not yet seen what 2SLGBTQA+ people would do if we got to experience love and freedom. I want to get to see that. This drives my work.

It’s hard to write about successes at a time of push back and resistance. We’re experiencing more public transphobia, particularly directed towards trans women and trans femmes. Bathroom bans, bathroom violence, push back against Drag Queen Story Hours, barriers to participation in sports are about keeping trans people out of public life—they are about making trans lives unlivable. And that does not include challenges in accessing appropriate medical care, barriers to getting accurate ID, ways trans people experience violence and discrimination in housing, employment, and other spheres. I want to create the conditions where trans people can thrive, where all people have access to language about gender diversity, where there is freedom and where people are valued. We are so far from there.

And, there is more access to language. Some provinces, school boards and schools have policy.

We see moments of queering and transing curriculum. For a long time, work in education has been about accommodating individuals, and teachers can be really good at this —I’m very interested in dismantling the systems of oppression—the ways that sexism, cissexism, transphobia, and homophobia (along with colonialism, racism, ableism, and classism) shape our society and schools.

Jacq: Over the past decade, I’ve seen schools and school districts make huge strides towards 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion in their schools. Many school-wide GSAs are thriving, including elementary school GSAs, and regular celebratation of Pride month. This is huge. It has become significantly easier for 2SLGBTQ+
people to work with schools to become more inclusive.

But while I have seen immense growth from educational organizations on the topic of GSD, I also have seen a move to performative and neo-liberal approaches to this work. Schools are hoisting Pride flags and sharing instagram posts about their GSAs, but they are still failing at providing 2SLGBTQ+ young people with a queer-affirming space to learn and grow. Trans children continue to be misgendered and belittled by their teachers and administrators, elementary students lack intersectional and critical pedagogy related to GSD topics, and queer-inclusive sexual health education is still far behind. There is so much more work to do—and schools need to recognize that a Pride flag, while important, needs to be accompanied with critical and radical approaches to education.

I would also name that I think that the training of future teachers is improving around topics related to GSD, notably because the University of Regina and University of Saskatchewan have invested more energy into finding faculty who focus on queer or Two-Spirit studies in education. Despite this purposeful effort though, I continue to witness both BEd and MEd students
discussing GSD topics with little to no critical lens.

Christie: I think gay-straight alliances (GSA) in schools have created safe spaces and conversations that didn’t even seem possible 25 years ago. I know there’s still work to do, but I am grateful for the work of every student and every teacher involved in GSAs today.

James: Like sexuality and gender itself, this field of study and practice is fluid and dynamic and continuing to change. For example, when I graduated from high school homosexuality was not only considered a sin, a sickness, and a perversion, it was also illegal and individuals were imprisoned because of their sexual orientation. In the space of 50 years, our society has rapidly changed its understanding of sexual orientation and gender identities and gradually now appreciates that difference and diversity is a strength for all of us and something to embrace and celebrate. The struggle for basic human rights and equity is as old as civilizations themselves and we have a much better understanding now that all cultures over time have always had gender and sexual diversities.

Kyla: Markers of success include the fact that many students are expecting to be seen, heard, and believed; school division policies and procedures are being developed to ensure students are protected, respected, and included; Provincial curriculum is more inclusive of differing identities; the Ministry of Education has a policy statement (2015) on GSAs in schools; and more students are “out” in schools.

However, school divisions need to continue to educate students, staff, and families about diverse identities, including gender and sexual diversity. Some school divisions have “pockets” of advocacy happening but many school divisions do not have policies that articulate their beliefs and expectations specific to gender and sexual diversity.

Identity is becoming more politicized and less personalized, which has created an environment of debate. People are navigating how to be “religious yet supportive.” However, parents/families who are gender and/or sexually diverse are expecting that their identities are included and represented in classrooms.

James: It has been a long time coming, but finally we are acknowledging that the teaching profession can be a place for the 2SLGBTQ+ community and that sexual and gender diverse teachers have a voice. It is almost 50 years ago that Doug Wilson, a gay Master’s student from Meadow Lake in the College of Education at the University of Saskatchewan was fired by the Dean for placing an ad in the student newspaper inviting interested people to a meeting to establish a gay association on campus. The idea that a homosexual be allowed to supervise teacher-interns in the schools was considered to be immoral and illegal and not in keeping with the “higher standards” to which all teachers are held.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission failed to support him because sexual orientation was not included then as a “protected category.”

Today, young student teachers, including gender and sexually diverse ones, are demanding that their school experiences be free from discrimination and that they must not just be tolerated but celebrated and allowed to be their “authentic selves” in the classroom, for their own benefit, for the benefit of the students they teach, and for the benefit of the school systems and communities in which they teach.

What do you see as the current challenges around gender and sexual diversity in education?

Christie: I find myself regularly reminded that the work of supporting sexual and gender diversity—in education and elsewhere—is not done yet. And, even where gains have been made, I think it’s important not to take these gains for granted.

Fritz: There are still so many challenges. Part of it sometimes is the reluctance in the field of education to create change on their curriculum that does not center on the heteronormative. There is still backlash from conservative groups even around the existence of queer and trans people in the academy.

j wallace skelton: Many teachers don’t receive any training on how to create safe and celebratory environments for 2SLGBTQA+ people. Even teachers who want to be supportive may be unclear about how to do that, or if they are allowed to.

Schools are often not safe for 2SLGBTQA+ people. Sexism, heterosexism, and cissexism continue to be the culture of most schools. Homophobia and transphobia continue to negatively impact staff and students.

Students who are outside of heterosexuality or cissexuality continue to experience the epistemic injustice of being denied access to words for their own identities, to histories, and to possibility models. Schools often don’t have text books, curriculum materials, images, and other forms of representation. What they do have is often by and about White, able bodied people living middle class lives.

There is a rising conservative backlash that is making schools less safe for 2SLGBTQ students and for educators who are doing 2SLGBTQ work.

Jacq: I think that the rise in transmisogyny as a political strategy is really alarming. While some might think that this is only happening in the extremes in places like Florida, where we recently saw the Governor ban trans affirming health care for children, we’re seeing this transmisogyny manifest in our own backyards. Recently, a Drag Queen Storytime event was protested in Saskatoon, and although it may be easy to simply describe this as homophobia, trans women and trans feminine people are overwhelmingly the targets for this kind of rhetoric and violence. Those who study this transphobia have made direct links between transphobia and fascism, and while some people may accuse me of overexaggerating or being overly concerned, this link is clear to anybody who spends a large amount of time engaging in these spaces.

Until educators and administrators have a significant grasp of transfeminist theory and trans studies in education, we can’t hope to overcome this challenge. Trans girls in schools across Canada and the U.S. are being unfairly targeted and made into a bogeyman that transphobic and “gender critical” activists are using to further anti-trans perspectives.

Kyla: The challenges include a lack of knowledge and capacity; fear of backlash and a lack of support; absence of policy and procedures; competing “priorities”; and a lack of government leadership.

Allyship: How can teachers, professors, and administrators better support 2SLGBQT+ students?

j wallace skelton: Create a safe environment for all your students. Don’t allow homophobia, transphobia, or gender policing. Ensure all students have access to language, information, history about 2SLGBTQA+ people. Acknowledge that homophobia and transphobia are tools of colonialism. Ensure that students have a safe and confidential way to share their name and pronoun with you. Ensure that you always use their name and pronouns, that other faculty do, and that if you have a substitute teacher, they get the right information. Openly talk and teach about 2SLGBTQA+ people, cultures, communities and our lives. Listen. Your students may be more familiar with 2SLGBTQA+ people and cultures, and you may have a lot to learn from them. Find your own co-conspirators, people who will support you in this work. Build your own network of allies. Know that this is part of the work of equity and justice, and that this work is on going and intersectional.

James: Allies are necessary, needed, wanted, and appreciated, especially in a profession like teaching.

Jacq: I’m actually not interested in “allyship” in education. I’ve learned from Indigenous Action, about the idea of accomplices, over allies. Cisgender, heterosexual teachers and professors need to be willing to put their bodies, jobs, incomes and safety on the line for queer and trans students and colleagues who are experiencing violence every day.

This means queering your classroom by challenging the status quo and disrupting power dynamics in the classroom. This means teaching about queer and trans existence, no matter how young the children are. This means protecting a trans kid from abusive colleagues or their abusive family. This means recognizing that police in schools harms queer and trans kids, especially Indigenous queer and trans children, Black queer and trans children, and queer and trans children of colour, and advocating for the removal of school resource officers. This means breaking school administrative procedures that segregate trans kids from their peers in gendered activities, changerooms and bathrooms.

Christie: I would like to defer to the experts in teacher education on this question. But, I will mention that symbols of 2SLGBTQ+ allyship still matter—perhaps especially to those who are listening and looking for that support. For instance, for some, listening and looking, displaying pride flags, and introducing your pronouns (if you use them) will matter a lot. (Please don’t require others to share their pronouns, though; simply creating the space for the possibility of sharing pronouns is what matters.) And this might go without saying for some, but using an individual’s pronouns and name matters; do that.

Fritz: Support begins with the self. This means mindset or epistemological change. One of ways of contributing to decolonization is to decolonize our minds and gazes from the dominant understanding of gender and sexualities. There is need to take action in supporting queer and trans initiatives and advocacies; standing up for queer and trans folks and helping to center their voices and experiences, especially when thinking about implementation of curriculum, student training and development, research, and service.

Kyla: Teachers and professors can support 2SLGBQT+ students by education and reflection; listening to diverse stories; diversifying resources; establishing alliances for gender and sexual diversity; attending professional development; reading queer academic work; asking questions of senior leaders; telling students, “I see you, I hear you, I believe you”; talking about privilege; challenging microaggressions; and learning to call out and to call in.

How have you personally been supported in education systems?

Jacq: In my MEd at the U of R, I navigated so much frustration, but it was an instructor who taught me my first early childhood education course who really meaningfully supported me. When I reached out to inquire about a lack of queer content in the syllabus, she immediately apologized and committed to adding material, and while she invited me to share my own thoughts around what should be included, she also recognized that it wasn’t my responsibility to teach myself. She went out of her way to add content that was relevant to me and what I wanted to learn.

Above that though, when my classmates engaged in that week’s content in homophobic and transphobic ways—she validated and affirmed my frustration and disappointment, and made sure that I was accommodated and able to express this frustration with my colleagues in a supportive environment.

All that being said, the most active form of solidarity that I’ve seen throughout my education is when educators are willing to be queer alongside me—whether that’s publicly as openly queer educators, or after they trust me, finding small ways to share with me that they’re queer, too. I think that these types of mentorships, between queer educators and queer students, is what really builds supportive education spaces. That’s why schools and universities need to actively hire queer and trans faculty and staff.

Kyla: My graduate studies at U of R deepened my understanding of gender and sexual diversity from an academic focus. My role as a coordinator in school divisions has opened the door for my advocacy work.

James: I moved from Saskatoon to Regina as a newly minted and openly gay man in 1995 and the Faculty of Education and the University of Regina was welcoming, supportive, and ready to move with the times. In particular, I have former colleagues Dr. Meredith Cherland and Dr. Liz Cooper to thank for such a climate. They pushed me to go farther than I might have on my own.

j wallace skelton: In Grade 5, when people thought I was a girl, I was cast in a skit for the Christmas concert as a mouse. My friend Heath was cast as Santa. I wanted to be Santa and wear a beard, but the teacher was clear that because Heath was taller he should be Santa, and I, the shorter person, should be the mouse. Heath and I secretly switched the night of the performance. Peers and friends have often supported me through acts of allyship even when the official system did not.

Fifteen years ago, I was part of an integrated equity team for the Halton District School Board. One of my colleagues was a Muslim woman who wore a hijab. She and I would often lead trainings for staff teams together—me the queer trans person, her the hijabi-wearing married woman. Teachers attending the trainings would look back and forth between us, and sometimes ask if we hated each other. Suzanne Muir absolutely had my back at all times. I had hers. Our ability to work together and support each other was itself a powerful training tool.

In grad school my supervisor, Rob Simon, encouraged me to copy him on any email about any transphobic issues I encountered. All through grad school I would continue to encounter systems with the wrong name, or the wrong honourific, or refusals to print my actual name on my diploma. These are the kind of things that suck your time and energy away from your actual work. I would copy Rob, and he would first respond to the email expressing his concern and then phone the person who was responsible for that area and make them fix it. Knowing that I did not have to fight these battles on my own made a huge difference. It would have been so much better if the university had fixed its systems, but it hadn’t and Rob Simon used his institutional power to address them.

What are some examples of unsupportive behaviours demonstrated by teachers or professors?

j wallace skelton: When I first started doing this work, I had a high school principal, who asked me “Why should I let you, a young gay man, have access to children.”

When I was advocating for a trans high school athlete, his principal physically assaulted me, throwing me against a concrete wall. She said this was so I would understand what would happen to him if he was in the boy’s changeroom.

I’ve encountered principals who have told me it is not possible for them to have an all-gender bathroom at their school, or who have designed processes so onerous that students leave the building to access the bathroom. I’ve seen teachers send students to the office when they don’t believe the student is who they say they are, because they have decided the sex marker on the attendance is more authoritative than the student. Teachers who are homophobic, who harass students, who blame students for homophobic or transphobic violence they encounter, who don’t stop students who are engaging in homophobia or transphobia—An unspeakable amount of casual, thoughtless heterosexism and cissexism exists and gender stereotyping is endemic.

Jacq: Throughout the work that I’ve done to support parents and students in Saskatchewan, I’ve heard all kinds of stories from them about what they’ve experienced. Parents have told me that they were told by openly gay educators, in response to their complaint that their kids were experiencing transphobia at school, that “transphobia doesn’t happen at this school,” as if being queer means it’s impossible to perpetuate transphobia. Students have told me about teachers refusing to use their chosen name, because it’s not “on their file,” and that they were unable to learn about queer sexual health at school. I’ve heard so many stories, and it gets so disheartening, especially when a lot of these stories are about teachers and administrators who claim to be allies.

In my Master’s program, I had another professor who consistently misgendered me and the other trans students in her class. After weeks of this, I finally explained to her that when she misgenders me, it makes it harder for me to focus and learn. She responded with gratuitous apologies, but explained that it was hard for her, and she didn’t mean anything by it. She kept misgendering me and my friends. I stopped engaging in that class.

Kyla: Examples of unsupportive behaviours include using binary language; resisting someone’s pronouns; not acknowledging microaggressions; heteronormative language, resources, authors, and so on; a lack of conversation about diverse identities; and an absence of representation.

What is your advice to the Faculty of Education (and other Faculties of Education)?

Jacq: We need to go further than 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive education, or GSD inclusive education—we need to aim for queering education, for queer pedagogy, for trans pedagogy, and for education that liberates all of us from homophobic and transphobic systems.

Christie: Let’s keep doing the work–begin by continuing to recognize that there is still work to do. And let’s keep making things better for all our students.

James: My advice is to continue to explain, teach, and show and tell that every person in the world has a sexual orientation and a gender identity and that, beyond any simple binary, such diversity, complexity, and fluidity is not just healthy but actually necessary for social and ecological systems in the Anthropocene.

And don’t think of sexual orientation and gender identity in schooling as an “administrative problem” to deal with, but a human issue involving uniquely real people who deserve to be embraced with the dignity they deserve.

Kyla: I have taught the EHE 487 class a number of times. It (or a similar course) should be a required course for all education students. We should ensure that the co-operating teachers with whom we are placing our preservice teachers have the understanding of anti-oppressive education and to role-model. Ensure there is a balance of representation of queer authors. Create a forum for queer preservice educators and their allies to talk about navigating and thriving in Saskatchewan schools.

j wallace skelton: Most schools replicate the ableism, classism, colonization, homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia, and other forms of systemic oppression that are part of mainstream society. Education needs to be a place of justice, and that means challenging ourselves and our students to create equitable places where all students can thrive. Anti-oppression work needs to be explicit and intersectional. It needs to be central in teacher education because it is central to schools being just places. We can not teach as we were taught. We know that inflicted significant harm. We must do better.

 

Autumn 2022 issue of Education News is now available

In this issue:

Click image to read online

A message from the Dean… 3
Talking about gender and sexual diversity in education… 4
Physical education: 2SLGBTQ+ inclusionary or exclusionary? … 22
Alumni award recipient… 25
Student’s research finds gap in gender inclusivity in Dove Confident Me program… 26
Welcoming our new Elder-in-Residence, May Desnomie… 29
With Gratitude to Elder Alma Poitras… 32
A lifelong search for a good teacher… 33
Hard work and a little luck… 36
Retirement Celebrations… 40
Successful defence… 41
New faculty and staff… 42
New and interim positions… 44
Funding and awards… 46
Spring Convocation Prizes… 48
Published research… 49

Change maker: Transforming schools and society

Grad student and teacher Keilyn Howie (BEd’19) is a change maker. Keilyn’s lived experiences have given her a drive to make schools and society safe for racialized minorities.

Growing up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in the 90s with a White family taught Keilyn what it feels like to be different. “I come with my own privileges because I was born and raised in Saskatchewan, but in a lot of ways as I was growing up I was made to feel very different, and it was quite obvious I was very different, and I was treated differently,” she says.

Following an initial unsuccessful attempt at university, Keilyn moved to Regina in 2011 where she met a Black professor who encouraged her to go into education: “I was helping her out at Footlocker, where I worked, and she said, ‘You would make a really great teacher! You should go into education.’”

Though Keilyn couldn’t envision herself as a teacher at the time, she was still drawn to the field of education because she had a younger brother with autism, and she had witnessed her mother’s impact as an advocate for him and his needs in the public school system. When Keilyn took a job with the Autism Resource Centre, she was motivated by their requirements to work on her Educational Assistant (EA) certificate.

Later, in 2014, while working with Regina Public Schools (RPS) as an EA, Keilyn had the privilege of working with a teacher who inspired her to become a teacher: “I was with an amazing educator who was so inspirational, just the way she worked with students. I was so touched and moved and I thought ‘I want to be like that.’ She encouraged me to go to university to get my education degree.” The RPS community school she was working in also affected Keilyn: “Education looked different in a community school, just the impact you could have as a teacher. I felt that I could contribute something, just through the relationships formed with students. Teaching is so relationship based, especially in a community school. I felt that who I am and my experiences and lenses would fit well in a community school setting.”

With all this encouragement, Keilyn finally decided to become a teacher. She entered the Elementary Education program at the University of Regina and found the experience life changing. “The first class was BAM, so eye opening;” Keilyn says, “Dr. Carol Schick’s class gave me the language to describe my experience. Growing up in Saskatchewan, we didn’t really talk about race and racism. Especially when I was growing up in the 90s, there wasn’t a lot of diversity; it was a pretty lonely world. I learned the language for the world around me, to name, recognize, and address oppression and racism in different forms. I’ve been drawn to this work in this field ever since.”

Reflecting further on Dr. Schick’s class, Keilyn says, “My identity was being validated in that class—to learn that this is how society is and that it needs to change. Before I had thought it was just me that needed to change. Even for the other students in the class to learn the language of anti-racism and anti-oppression … it wasn’t only my introduction to this language, it was also new to my peers. I remember another person in the class making sense of intersectionality and binaries, saying, ‘So if you’re a woman and you’re Black, it’s like a double negative?’ It was so jarring for me to hear that, but at least he was trying to make sense of it, and he was realizing that somebody who looks like me has a lot more to overcome than somebody who looks like him. Even with moments like that, as hard as they are to hear, there is hope: people are still learning, and people are changing, and it gives me much hope for the future.”

In her third year of university, Keilyn experienced her first Black professor, Dr. Barbara McNeil, who had encouraged her while she worked at Footlocker: “I think that shows how important representation is. I had lived my whole life with White teachers who never told me that I could be a teacher or that I would be a great teacher. I didn’t feel seen when I was growing up, didn’t see myself reflected in the classroom. I didn’t see Black kids in books or hear Black voices. It inhibited my identity growth for a long time.”

After graduating in 2019, Keilyn began her teaching career in a community school. Just one month later, she was challenged by the pandemic and the movement to remote teaching. The pandemic, she says “really opened my eyes to some of the inequities that community schools face, so I really wanted to become an advocate for these communities. That’s been driving me ever since.”

To make the changes that are needed, Keilyn is active with her Division’s Diversity Steering Committee and an Anti-Racist, Anti-Oppressive Advisory Committee. “All of these experiences over many years have put me in a place to speak and advocate for people in these communities, to advocate for the change that is so desperately needed in our Division, not only in community schools. The necessary conversations are being shied away from and I really want to be the voice to open those doors and make it seem less daunting to talk about what’s right, justice and equity, even with my young students.”

Now in her third year of teaching, Keilyn brings all of her personal and professional experiences, to her classroom of Grades 1 and 2 students at Thomson Community School in Regina. “I just love it here. Being a person of colour is really helpful in a community school. The demographics in a community school are diverse and representation is so important. With my experiences, I feel I’m able to connect with these students and even their parents who might be new to the country, or who might have some generational mistrust of schools.”

In her master’s program in education, Keilyn is planning her thesis and anticipates exploring anti-Black racism in Saskatchewan. “It’s such a big void, but it’s something I still personally experience and I’m from Saskatchewan so I can only imagine what other people are experiencing.”

Inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission model, Keilyn says, “First there needs to be truth so we can get at what the issue is, how deep this issue is, what we even need to address, and then working on the action pieces to follow: How can we create these changes? How can we create more safe and inclusive spaces?”

With her work to make change in education, Keilyn hopes we can “re-imagine education. I think we can use education as a tool to transform schools and societies. [see K. Kumashira’s anti-oppressive model]. We can make sure that kids don’t go through what I went through when I was younger.” Keilyn summarizes with a quote by Ivan Fitzwater, saying, “The future of the world is in my classroom today.”

Keilyn’s Recommendations for Safe, Inclusive Classrooms

A foundation of belonging. Creating a classroom climate where kids feel safe and have a sense of belonging is important for them to learn. Keilyn says, “I’m intentional about making sure they all see themselves in the classroom. Even little things like this board on wall (see photo left.) My students love it. It builds that community.” This sense of belonging is fostered by several aspects in Keilyn’s teaching:

Conversations guided by great literature. Having a great selection of books with diverse topics and characters is Keilyn’s top teaching best practice suggestion. She says, “I don’t use a lot of pencils and papers, or worksheets. I teach through conversations, started with high quality literature. We have amazing conversations. Books are so important. I aim for three read alouds every day. I look for a books that match what I want to achieve. I don’t just read the book and move on. We talk about it. I ask them ‘What are your questions?’ which is more inviting than ‘Are there any questions?’ I am honest when I don’t know the answer to their question and we research it together.”

Responsive teaching. Part of creating a sense of belonging is being guided by the interests of students and their identities. Keilyn says, “I try to be culturally responsive. I use that globe all of the time because we are always talking about who we are as people and how we are all connected on this beautiful land. If I get a new student, we pull out the globe and look at where they come from and what languages they speak. If they are comfortable, they tell us about that, and we learn some of their language. It’s really important to me to let the kids be leaders and to introduce them to as many viewpoints as possible.”

Flexibility. Flexibility with daily plans is another aspect of Keilyn’s responsive teaching. “I’m very flexible–I have my day plans, if I veer from that, it’s okay. Listening to students and where they are at and what they are wondering might be the most important thing you do that day. If something negative happens, such as an experience of racism, stop your lesson to address what is happening because that will be the most important lesson of their day. We want students to feel seen and validated, so if we brush off their experiences or the things they are feeling, that’s not going to help them, the classroom climate, or the world. We have to address these things as they come up.”

Critical self-reflection. Keilyn adds that critical self-reflection is another important piece of developing a culture of belonging: “Teachers need to keep educating themselves about, for example, anti-racism. This is a pretty new field for a lot, especially in Saskatchewan. Teaching is so influential because were not just teaching the curriculum but also the hidden curriculum. If you don’t take the time to address your lenses or biases that you might be bringing, you might just be perpetuating those norms.”

Decolonize and Indigenize. Keilyn is working to decolonize and Indigenize her classroom as well. Walking into her classroom, one immediately sees the bundles of wild sage hanging on the door, which were gifted to her class. The next thing you might see is the classroom treaty that she and her students develop at the beginning of each year. Keilyn explains this activity is “a simple way to talk about treaty and historical context.”

Using the resources she finds through the School Division, Keilyn develops new opportunities to start conversations about what people have experienced, what they did historically, how newcomer settlement affected their lives, and how to get back to learning on the land. “I invite a lot of guest speakers into the classroom and I have the school Elder come in once a week to spend times with kids.”

Le Bac student helping to preserve Indigenous languages

4th-Year Baccalauréat en Éducation (Français) student Wahbi Zarry has beaten pandemic odds with his recently released video, 10 Days of Nakota, the second in a series of educational documentaries exploring Indigenous languages.

Produced and directed by Wahbi with director of photography and editor Tony Quiñones, the video documents Wahbi’s educational journey as he learns to speak Nakota in 10 days. The first video, 10 Days of Cree, was released in 2020. Despite the upheaval of the pandemic, including the loss of his father and uncle, Wahbi persevered to finish both his studies and the second video.

Wahbi conceived of the idea of the educational language videos after realizing how existing documentaries about Indigenous languages were slow-paced, not reflecting the vibrancy of the communities documented. “I mean there is no movement. We get the wrong idea about these communities. They are not at all like the documentaries; they are working, there are schools, there are education programs, people are fighting for their language, their culture, and I wanted to show it differently,” says Wahbi.

As a French language speaker who was born in Morocco and grew up in Paris, France, and who immigrated to Canada, where he learned English, and now Cree and Nakoda, Wahbi understands the value of language. “For me a language is what culture sounds like. Language is the mirror of culture. Losing the language is losing the communication part in a culture,” Wahbi is concerned about the loss of Indigenous languages worldwide. To save Indigenous languages, Wahbi says, we must “include the youth and create entertainment to learn this language.”

Enter: Crocus BigEagle and an entertaining video documenting Wahbi’s attempt to learn Nakota in 10 days.

Photo credit: Tony Quiñones.

In 10 Days of Nakota, 10-year-old Crocus BigEagle was Wahbi’s Nakota teacher; he smiles as he says, “She was sufficiently strict.” Their interactions are lighthearted and humorous. The final exam is conducted by the only remaining fluent speaker of Nakota, Elder Peter Bigstone (Ocean Man Nakoda First Nation). To receive his Nakota education, Wahbi moves from Ocean Man First Nation, to Regina, to Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation, and finally to Pheasant Rump Nakota First Nation. While the video’s tone is entertaining and heart-warming, that there is only one fluent speaker left is felt poignantly.

Wahbi says, “When it comes to Indigenous language in general, it is something extremely important. What kinds of structures do we have to protect these languages?” Officialization of Indigenous languages is one of the solutions Wahbi suggests: “What we do for the French language needs to happen for Indigenous languages.” Wahbi adds, “Braille and sign language should also be official languages.”

By producing these videos, Wahbi says he has learned to think differently about the concept of identity: “I grew up in Europe where the concept of identity is considered a bit of racism, or chauvinism, but in the Indigenous communities of Canada, identity means something else: language, culture, including others, it means sharing the knowledge. Now I see identity really differently than before.”

Parts of the video were intentionally filmed on the University of Regina campus. Wahbi says, “I did very good to apply to the University of Regina. It is very important to me to represent the University. Being a student here was a blessing.” Wahbi funded these videos himself as a gift, a way of giving back to Canada, a country he says, “gave me the opportunities I needed to do what I wanted to do.”

As a result of the documentaries, Wahbi has been contacted by Indigenous communities and others from around the world. His videos have cleared up a misconception that “All First Nations speak the same language.” Wahbi hopes the next video will be set in New Zealand, learning the Māori language in 10 days.

Watch the video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzIBEZIBrps

Spring 2022 Education News

Click image to access the animated copy of Education News.

In this issue:
A note from the Dean….. 3
Change maker: Tranforming schools and society….. 4
Alumna envisions schools as environments of empowerment….. 10
Why become a teacher? To be a role model….. 16
Alumnus positively influencing change….. 20
Le Bac student helping to preserve Indigenous languages….. 22
Teaching hard truths in a positive way: Kâsinamakewin….. 24
De/colonising Educational Relationships….. 29
Study informs services and supports for South Central Saskatchewan newcomers….. 30
Equity, diversity, and inclusion research partnership agreement announced….. 32
Successful defences….. 34
Funding and awards….. 35
Published research….. 36
New book….. 38
Long service recognition….. 38
New staff|New position….. 39
Student fundraising….. 40

Education News | Autumn 2021 issue


In This Issue:

A note from the Dean…..3
Stories about Indigenous education and unmarked gravesites in Canada…..4
Artistic expressions: masinahikêwin yêkâhk/ Writing in the sand poem…..10
Inaugural Gabriel Dumont Research Chair in Métis/Michif Education…..13
Education Students’ Society Truth and Reconciliation Week events…..16
Candidate for the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships Doctoral Awards 2021-2022 competition…..17
“I need to be in the quinzhee, not just talk about it!” Embodying our pedagogy…..18
Pimosayta: Learning to walk together slideshow…..21
Les étudiants du Bac mènent les activités de la Journée nationale de vérité et de réconciliation…..22
Le Bac student activities…..23
Funding and awards…..24
New faculty and staff…..26
Retirements…..27
Published research…..28

A conversation with Dr. Melanie Brice

In June, the Faculty of Education launched the inaugural Gabriel Dumont Research Chair in Métis/Michif Education. Dr. Melanie Brice was appointed to the Chair for a 5-year term. With the establishment of this new Chair, the first in a Faculty of Education in Canada, and many other endeavours toward Truth and Reconciliation, the Faculty continues to demonstrate a concerted and sustained commitment to teaching and research that is engaging faculty, students, and other education stakeholders in gaining a deeper understanding of our shared histories and a reconciliatory approach to a more just future.Dr. Melanie Brice’s upbringing as a Michif (Métis): “A Culture of Place”

Dr. Melanie Brice, a Michif (Métis) born in Meadow Lake and raised at Jackfish Lake, Saskatchewan, has a strong understanding of Indigenous histories, cultures, languages and literacies, perspectives, educational experiences, and cross-cultural education issues. However, Melanie didn’t start out with this understanding. “SUNTEP was pivotal in helping me see how all my experiences growing up were an important part of my identity. I knew that I was Métis and what that meant. With SUNTEP, I learned how to integrate these understandings into my teaching and how to explain them to others.” says Melanie.

“Most of my childhood recollections are around time spent at my grandparents’ ranch, north of Meadow Lake. I had a charmed childhood, living at the lake, and spending holidays at the ranch, riding horses and playing with my cousins,” says Melanie. Her family had instilled values that she understands as Métis: “I was always told, ‘Be proud. We are hard-working people.’ And constantly reminded that family is important,” says Melanie.

Genealogy is another interesting aspect of her Métis upbringing. Because Melanie is fair, her grandfather used to call her “wapistikwaan,” meaning “white head” and she wonders if he talked a lot about their genealogy because he knew there would come a time when she would be questioned. “Interesting, with everything going on around identity fraud,” Melanie says. “One reason genealogy is part of Métis culture is because we are always asked to prove our identity. We didn’t have the same recognition, rights, or status around the Indian Act.” Quoting 20th Century activist and Métis, Howard Adams, she says, “We are the forgotten people.”

From her genealogy, Melanie mentions ancestors such as Cuthbert Grant Jr, “considered warden of the prairie, one of the Métis leaders when Métis people became political with the Battle of Seven Oaks,” says Melanie, and Cyprien Morin and his wife Marie Morin who were among the first to settle at Meadow Lake in the late 1800s. “Hearing these stories when you are young, you realize, this is who your family is.” Melanie says, “That family is large, with many people descending from Cuthbert in the south and Cyprien in the north. I have family everywhere—many cousins as part of a large extended family. There is kinship among community.”

When thinking about how her upbringing gave her a sense of belonging, Melanie quotes bell hooks calling this sense “a culture of place.” “All of those experiences growing up,” she says, “and knowing you are related to so many people, shapes your understanding of how you see yourself and your place in the world, and the willingness you have to get to know other people and work with other people.”

The Misconceptions Around the Term “Métis”

Misunderstandings and misconceptions exist around the term, “Métis.” Melanie says, “I get frustrated when I tell somebody I’m Métis and they automatically think that means ‘mixed’ or worse, the derogatory ‘half breed.’ We are a distinct people with a distinct culture. We are our own, not half of anything!”

A pan-Indigenous misconception of what it means to be Métis has also been an issue. Melanie says, “I’ve been questioned my entire life about my identity.” However, Melanie looks at the questions she is asked, “Not as a challenge but as an opportunity to be able to share with people what it means to be Métis,” she says, adding that there are many variables involved in claiming the identity, not the least of which is to have connection with your community. “We have a nation. I don’t say I’m a member of the Métis. I’m a citizen in the Métis Nation. There is more than just genealogy and being accepted by a community. You also need to give back,” says Melanie.

The Importance and Activities of the Gabriel Dumont Research Chair in Métis/Michif Education

Melanie feels excited and thankful about being the first Chair: “I’m thankful to the Dean and GDI. Without the work they did, this Chair wouldn’t be possible,” she says. There have been similar chairs in Métis studies, in history and Indigenous studies, but this is the first in education.

It’s important, Melanie says, because “of the impact that education has on change, changing lives, influencing how we see ourselves and others.” Melanie hopes to bring a stronger Métis presence into curriculum, “impacting future generations with what we have contributed and continue to contribute to education.” She is excited to engage with other Métis scholars across the country to understand their research and the work they are doing to affect Métis/Michif education.

Another aspect of the Chair Melanie values is the opportunities it brings for enhanced academic engagement with GDI and SUNTEP. Melanie already has a long-standing relationship with GDI and SUNTEP as an alumna and former faculty while she was working on her PhD. She is excited that the Chair brings her back into teaching at SUNTEP. “Working with GDI and talking about what are some of the priorities right now, and how can we work together to achieve some of those priorities—That’s the really important piece: having something that responds to our community’s needs. The Chair can put those things forward.”

The Kaa-tipeyimishoyaahk–We Own Ourselves Project. Working around the issue of identity, one of the big projects that Melanie hopes to engage with as Chair is to research Métis/Michif Education. She says, “The word Kaa-tipeyimishoyaahk—We are a people who own ourselves (Gaudry, A. 2014)—was given to me by Michif elder, Norman Fleury. There has been a lot of research around Indigenous education. However, it is done in either a pan-Indigenous view or it is First Nations. There isn’t a lot of research on Métis/Michif learning. I definitely want to focus on bringing that into academia, supporting the teaching at SUNTEP.” The We Own Ourselves project is supporting this goal. Melanie is talking to elders and old ones, and Métis educators and scholars to find out what they need. She is also part of her own research project, learning northern Michif from a fluent speaker.

Language and Cultural Revitalization. According to the Statistics Canada 2016 census, with a rising population of 51.2%, the Métis were the fastest growing population in Canada between 2006 and 2016. However, less than 2% of Métis people speak the Michif language, making the Michif language one of the most vulnerable Indigenous languages in Canada.

Through the chair, Melanie intends to build capacity in Métis/Michif education by focusing on language and cultural revitalization along with research, learning, knowledge keeping, reconciliation, and inclusion.

Not everyone has had the same cultural experiences and opportunities as Melanie. Her daughters, whom she raised in the city, didn’t have the same experiences: “Even though I thought I did such a good job with my daughters, instilling in them a strong sense of their Métis identity, they didn’t have those kinds of lived experiences—cultural knowledge from being in community and at gatherings,” says Melanie. Over the years, Melanie has also seen a change in SUNTEP’s scope, in that when she went through the program, “SUNTEP taught Métis people how to be teachers. Now because of how successful colonization has been it is more like teaching students how to be Métis and how to be teachers.”

Melanie clarifies that the culture has not disappeared. “Culture is still there; it’s just not taken up in the same kind of way because of how families have moved away. That’s why it is important to be more explicit in terms of naming.”

Dreaming Big. Research on Métis ways of learning, knowing, and being is important; however, Melanie is concerned about the dearth of Métis researchers and PhD students. When asked to dream about the possibilities if unlimited resources were available, Melanie says she would like to see “fully funded Métis graduate students—students pursuing their PhDs without having to leave their communities or give up their income.” She recognizes that this would be tricky because there is value in doing a residency component; “Yet,” she says, “I can see where a move away from family and supports is a huge obstacle for potential students.” Another dream of Melanie’s is, “to adequately compensate our elders, old ones, and knowledge and culture keepers who are so pivotal to the research.”